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Don't Call Me a "Sex Surrogate"!

By Andrew Heartman

My name is Andrew, and I'm an IPSA-Certified Surrogate Partner. Unfortunately, however, a title that the media and others commonly apply to me and my colleagues is "sex surrogate." Allow me to give an analogy to illustrate why this title is so misleading.

Imagine, if you will, a professional chef. This chef trained at the best culinary schools and is experienced in preparing every part of a gourmet meal. He's able to prepare a wide variety of appetizers, an assortment of entrées, and he also spends about 15% of his time preparing pastries as well.

I'm sure you'll agree it would be misleading to call him a "pastry chef," because the title focuses on a minor part of his work and excludes the majority of his expertise. Calling me a "sex surrogate" would be equivalently misleading.

Whereas a pastry chef is focused on desserts only, our professional chef wants to be able to prepare pastries because they are often a part of the overall dining experience. Similarly, Surrogate Partner Therapy helps the client develop skills and confidence in every aspect of relationship. Physical intimacy may be included because it's often part of relationship, but it doesn't happen with every client, and it's never guaranteed.

Masters and Johnson conceived and first used what they called "partner surrogates." Somehow, and although I have done considerable research I have never found out how, their more accurate moniker got changed into "sex surrogate." (Actually if anyone knows anything about the origin of "sex surrogate," please contact me.) It was always misleading, and it does harm to the profession by creating the false impression that it's mostly about sex. In reality, "sexuality may be at the heart of it, but sex is the very least of it" (Barbara Roberts, UCLA Conference on Legal Issues in the Use of Surrogate Partners in Sex Therapy).

For most of us the preferred terminology is "surrogate partner" and the process is Surrogate Partner Therapy. The surrogate "partners" with the client and this partnering may take many different forms. We partner with the client to create a real-life environment for experiential learning related to social skills, touch, body image, boundaries, relationships, communication, intimacy, emotional awareness and expression, overcoming fear and anxiety, and possibly sexuality, which is only included if the therapist, surrogate, and client all agree that:

  1. Such contact is necessary for the client to reach their goals,
  2. It's in the client's best interest, and
  3. The client has demonstrated sufficient awareness and skills that would allow such contact to be corrective rather than a repetition of patterns that already aren't working for the client.

In any case, less than 13% of the time surrogates spend with clients (source) is spent in activities that could be considered "sexual."

Copyright © 2010–2017 Andrew Heartman

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